The Mysteries

jesus_6th_c_mosaic

A 6th-century mosaic of Jesus

When asked which is the “greatest” of God’s commandments, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”Matthew 22:37-39

Who Is Jesus?

Sister Alma Rose prays to Jesus. I have heard her. “O Jesus, have mercy!” she’ll say when there’s a calamity. But if you ask her if she’s Jewish, she says yes, she is, which is also what she answers when asked if she is a Buddhist, which I know because I was with her at Polly Ellen’s when she quoted from the Gospel of Buddha

Painting of the Buddha at the Deer Park (photo by Kay Ess)

Painting of the Buddha at the Deer Park (photo by Kay Ess)

The deva said,

What is the greatest gain?

What is the greatest loss?

Which armour is invulnerable?

What is the best weapon?

The Blessed One replied,

The greatest gain is to give to others;

the greatest loss is to greedily receive without gratitude;

an invulnerable armor is patience;

the best weapon is wisdom.

…and Polly Ellen said, “Sister Alma Rose, are you a Buddhist?” and Sister Alma Rose said she was.

“But I thought you were a Christian,” Polly Ellen said.

“I am,” said Sister Alma Rose serenely.

Polly Ellen turned to me and said, “Fanny, do you know Jesus?”

I never know quite what to say when people ask me if I “know Jesus” or if I have “been saved.” The short answer is Yes, but I don’t think we’re having the same conversation.  I mean, I don’t think my “yes” means what the other person thinks it means.

I was sure that Polly Ellen and I weren’t having the same conversation when she asked me to give my “testimony.”

“Why don’t you go first,” I suggested, and could have bit my tongue off. Sister Alma Rose just smiled and settled a little farther back in her chair.

Polly Ellen’s testimony

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

Don’t worry if there are things you don’t understand about Jesus. I have been learning about who Jesus is all my life, and I still don’t understand. It is one of the mysteries, and that’s okay. Mysteries are exciting. Someday, all the mysteries will be explained. I don’t mind waiting.

Polly Ellen

Polly Ellen

When I was a little girl, I didn’t like Jesus very much. In fact, I was quite afraid of him. Most of what I knew about Jesus I learned in Sunday school. I went to Sunday school every week because I was a very serious little girl and I wanted very seriously to be good.

Even after my family stopped going to church, I kept going to Sunday school to learn how to be good. I asked my brother why we had stopped going to church as a family, and he said it was because Mom and Dad thought the minister at our church was a big poophead. This is not a word I think you should use. I’m just telling you what my brother said.

The Sermon on the Mount, painted by Carl Heinrich Bloch (d.1890)

The Sermon on the Mount, painted by Carl Heinrich Bloch (d.1890)

At Sunday school, the teachers would have us memorize a little piece of the Bible, and it usually was about something Jesus wanted us to do that wasn’t fun. “Give all your stuff to the poor and follow me.” “Love your enemies.” “Do good to those who hate you.” These verses were from the part of the Bible called the Gospel, which means “good news.” But I couldn’t figure out what was so good about it.

The Sunday school teachers said that Jesus didn’t want me to be selfish and that I should care more for other people, ALL the other people in the world, than I cared about myself. This was hard for me to understand, because I knew these Sunday school teachers, and they all lived in big fancy houses and had expensive cars, and also, they wouldn’t let black people come to our church.

Cupola painting depicting Heaven and Hell, Il Duomo (begun in 1296), Florence, Italy

Cupola painting depicting Heaven and Hell, Il Duomo (begun in 1296), Florence, Italy

But still, I grew up feeling more or less guilty most of the time because I was selfish. The only good thing about it was that I was always nice to everybody, even geeks and nerds and people who smelled bad, and so I got to be Homecoming Queen because geeks and nerds vote too.

A starving Biafran child in the late 1960s

A starving Biafran child in the late 1960s

By the time I was a grownup, I was sure that I was a horrible person and that God couldn’t possibly love me enough to want me with him in heaven. Sometimes I would start to feel happy, but then I would catch myself and remember that I wasn’t supposed to be happy, not as long as there was a single person in the world who was poor or sick or suffering in any way.

Now I am almost always happy. And I will tell you why.

Many years ago, I met a very wise woman named Margaret, who read Jesus’ words to me out of the Bible. She read from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, verse 39: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus at the Marriage at Cana, fresco by Giotto (Giotta de Bondone), early 1300s
Jesus at the Marriage at Cana, fresco by Giotto (Giotto di Bondone), early 1300s

“Jesus doesn’t want you to love your neighbor instead of yourself,” Margaret said. “He wants you to love yourself too. If you let him, he will fill you full of love — enough for yourself and the whole rest of the world.”

Then she read to me from Matthew, chapter 6, where Jesus says, “Do not worry.”

“Pray, and give your worries to God,” Margaret said.

And so I think that the Good News, which Jesus taught, is that you don’t have to be perfect. In fact, any time you want to, you can give your mistakes and your fears and your worries to God, and God will put love in the place where your fears and worries used to be, and God will guide you in the way that you should go, because God loves you and wants you to be happy. That’s why God made you in the first place.

* * *

By the time Polly Ellen finished her testimony, tears were rolling down my face — tears of pity, thinking of Polly Ellen making herself so unhappy all those years because she thought she needed to carry the weight of the world… tears of joy, because the Polly Ellen I have always known is like a merry sprite, shining and humming and dancing through life.

When Polly Ellen walked with us out onto her porch to say goodbye, I gave her a big hug. “I am so grateful for you, Polly Ellen,” I said, and she held me tight and a little bit extra long, and when Sister Alma Rose and I were walking up the hill toward home, Sister Alma Rose handed me her clean, ancient floral hankie, which had been very neatly mended in several places, and I wondered if Sister Alma Rose is the only person in the world who still mends raggedy old hankies and darns her socks.

* * *

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Thud

Finding Your Place in Creation

Honey Mesquite (photo, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station)

Honey Mesquite (photo, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station)

Sister Alma Rose gets around. She don’t just sit on her grass-green porch in her grass-green rocker at her big white house at Hilltop Farm and crochet doilies and spout wisdom the way Old Faithful spouts… whatever it is that Old Faithful spouts.

One day, when Sister Alma Rose was in Arizona, she was setting next to a sunny window — sometimes, in southern Arizona, it’s exceedingly difficult to find a window that ain’t sunny — and she’s gazing absently at the mesquite tree right out next the window. As y’all probably know, mesquite trees has thousands (or maybe millions) of tiny oval leaves… and Sister Alma Rose says to herself, each one of those leaves is absolutely essential to the life of that tree.

That’s when Sister Alma Rose understood that each of us is like one of them little tiny leaves. We all have us a place in Creation — a niche only we can fill — and finding that place — which is the place that both gives us, as individuals, the most joy and fulfillment, and also does the most possible benefit to the world, to the universe, to “all sentient beings,” as the Buddhists has it — is everyone’s assignment.

Jon Sullivan)

Old Faithful (photo: Jon Sullivan)

Soon after that, someone (Dr. Gerry Swanson, a great man) gave Sister Alma Rose a copy of The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, which, if y’all ain’t read it, is a lovely little fable about how the Universe knocks itself out pointing y’all in the direction of your niche, your place, your destiny, your joy… and simple abundance. And if y’all ain’t paying attention, then the Universe will give y’all a big, and often uncomfortable, jolt to wake y’all up. Bonk. Thud.

Anne Lamott has written that huge pain often precedes huge joy, only she didn’t use them exact words, but Sister Alma Rose can’t find the place where Anne Lamott put that thought down in words much more eloquently whimsical than Sister Alma Rose’s words. It’s like giving birth, that huge pain is, and y’all who’s done that knows that when y’all’s in the middle of it, there’s a time when y’all’s thinking, this is not a Good Thing, I am hating this, and then, out jumps the Joy.

Sister Alma Rose was in a Dark Place when she wrote the song “All Alone.” The Universe was pulling her every which-a-way, and she just throws herself into God’s arms and says, “Take me away, somewhere, anywhere but here,” and God holds her a bit for a little rest and then sets her down in a new place, where there’s love, and light, and a calling. Sister Alma Rose prays y’all will find that place of your own, and maybe, if y’all be paying attention, y’all will find that place without the Universe having to pick y’all up and drop y’all down real hard on y’all’s head.

All alone, just me and you, O Lord,
we are all alone in the world. I need you to
help me through this moment, God— please
strengthen me when I am weary.
My only home is here with you. There’s a
peace I’ve never known before.
I need you alone, my God,
and nothing more.

There’s a sickness in my heart
only you can heal. When I
come apart, only you
can make me whole again.
Only you my tattered soul can mend.

Only you can lift my spirit high. Only you
can shine in the dark; only you can
heal my broken heart and put my
mind at ease when I am afraid. But you
paid the price. Now I am free. You
gave your life for me, and I will
never need to feel all alone
again.

Reconcile me, Lord, to
brother and sister. Help me to
find my place in Creation. Take my life
and make it a celebration of your grace.

And the flame inside my heart will blaze, and will
light the way for others, lost and
all alone, as I once was… and together
we shall gather in your love.

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Good Vibrations

http://www.echoes.org/graphics/Kitaro.jpg
http://www.echoes.org/graphics/Kitaro.jpg

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The essence of meditation is also the essence of art. —Claudio Naranjo

Meditation and music cannot be separated.Sri Chinmoy

The essence of sound healing is the re-tuning of the human instrument, correcting at whatever level those frequencies, which have become weakened or gone out of tune. This is done on the basis of resonance, be it sympathetic vibrations or the power of forced resonance. Basically, whatever part of us that is ailing can be awakened by harmonious sound sources and remember at what frequency it should be vibrating. This can occur at the physical level (from cells to muscles to organs), the subtle level (changing negative psychology), and the causal level (create permanent positive changes in one’s nature). James D’Angelo, in “Healing Vibrations”

Meditate with Frequency

Dear Sister Alma Rose – My meditation teacher says that we should not listen to music while meditating. Yet there are hundreds of “meditation music” CDs out there. I do not have a quiet place to meditate – I live in a noisy part of a noisy city – so I like to listen to music when I meditate. What do you think? -Musically Inclined in Muskegon

Dear MIM – Sister Alma Rose has found that meditation, with all its meanings and misleadings, can seem exceedingly complicated. But it is very simple, actually. When y’all meditate, y’all are surrendering yourself to the flow of the river of life, the waters from the divine Source.

Kobe Bryant — In a Zone

Kobe Bryant — In a Zone

Whatever the reason for meditating – to relax, to reduce blood pressure, to quit smoking or using strong drink – the meditation itself is supposed to be done without expectation. Y’all are not to be thinking, oh, goody, I’m lowering my blood pressure, I’m making myself healthier, and et cetera. In meditation, we let go of all thought, and simply ride on the breath; or, in some traditions, we watch our thoughts and feelings drift by, observe them, and know that they are not us. They are, as Eckhart Tolle explains, “content,” not “essence,” and deep meditation reveals to us the secret, essential self, the soul, the inner light.

Y’all’s meditation teacher might suggest that y’all get yourself some of them fancy headphones that block out sound or play “white noise,” or that y’all listen to recorded nature sounds (rain, birdsong, the surf, and et cetera) while meditating.

There is some music whose purveyors claim is scientifically engineered to produce alpha brain waves. The alpha state “is the state of brain activity characterized by waves ranging from 8 to 13 cycles per second. Resembling a light trance, it is the condition one experiences during meditation, daydreaming, just prior to sleep (hypnagogic), and just after waking (hypnopompic).” (New Age Glossary)

Alpha state brainwaves are slower then beta (our active state) and the frequency ranges from 8 to 14 cycles per second. It is a state of “aware relaxation” and it brings numerous advantages:

  • calms your body and mind while it maintains alertness
  • stimulates imagination, intuition and higher awareness
  • creates detachment from the outcome and increases dowsing accuracy
  • improves your mental processes – concentration, clarity of thinking, decision making, memory
  • frees up more of your potential and helps you achieve your goals in life
  • allows you to sleep better, fall asleep easily, stay asleep right through the night
    DiviningMind.com

Some meditation practitioners, in the Buddhist lineages particularly, might say that listening to music is antithetical to meditation… that music induces an “artificial” sense of well-being, freeing us from the need to peel off the layers of “content” to reach the “essence.”

So let’s not listen to them.

Buddhist Gardens

Buddhist Gardens

Sister Alma Rose is not saying that they are wrong. In fact, meditation is a means of being “present,” of “living in the moment,” that at some point becomes a way of life, so that y’all are at peace in any situation, and not all situations evolve in the presence of soul-stirring music. Sister Alma Rose is sure that Kobe Bryant is utterly and completely “present” — “in the zone,” Sister Alma Rose believes is the expression —when he is hitting three-pointers with ease and grace, but Kobe Bryant does not demonstrate ease and grace in every circumstance.

It was hypothesized, at one time, that LSD was a viable shortcut to ecstasy. Look how well that worked out. On the other hand,

peyote [has been] used for 10,000 years as an Indian religious sacrament.

Peyote–officially known to botanists as Lophophora williamsii–grows naturally only in… four counties [in Texas]…. For non-Indians, possession is illegal and punishable by stiff narcotics laws. But the religious use of peyote is allowed for members of the Native American Church, a pan-tribal religion derived from the practices of native peoples who inhabited what is now southern Texas and northern Mexico.

The peyote church, as it is sometimes called, began to spread through Indian country in the late 1870s. Adherents eat peyote in a powdery form or drink it in tea during communal sessions that last from evening until dawn. Members of the 400,000-member church do not report feeling a high–pharmacologists say actual hallucinations are uncommon–but rather a period of intense inward reflection. “To me it’s a medicine,” says Earl Arkinson, the church president, a Chippewa-Cree Indian from Montana who is a police chief in his other life. “It’s a spiritual feeling.”peyote.com

Peyote cactus in the wild

Peyote cactus in the wild

Sister Alma Rose is not – let’s be crystal clear, here – not advocating the use of LSD, peyote (members of the Native American Church excepted), or any other drug – natural or synthetic, legal or illegal. With LSD, y’all are more likely to see y’all’s eyeballs in the sink than to find peace and serenity. Sister Alma Rose knows of what she speaks. In fact, Sister Alma Rose has digressed egregiously from the original point, which was the use of music in meditation.

Sister Alma Rose agrees with James D’Angelo when he says that “if the universe is [a]… finely tuned multitude of vibration frequencies, then using the principle of ‘as above, so below,’ each of us is the same…. The essence of sound healing is the re-tuning of the human instrument, correcting at whatever level those frequencies which have become weakened or gone out of tune.”

So let us say that listening to certain types of music in a meditative way is form of meditation or an alternative to meditation. Sister Alma Rose enjoys meditating to the music of two composers in particular: Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla and Kitarō.

  • Get y’alls self comfortable and relax thoroughly. Sister Alma Rose relaxes her skin, muscles, internal organs, and bones, bit by bit, from the scalp down by imagining that she is lying in the sun and her body is like warm butter. This metaphor may bring to mind the Wicked Witch of the West after Dorothy throws water on her in the Wizard of Oz movie – “I’m melting, I’m melting.” Please do not think of Sister Alma Rose in those terms. Sister Alma Rose will know, and she will send flying monkeys after y’all.
  • Meditate in silence for a few minutes, focusing on your breathing and relaxing a little more with every “out” breath.
  • Turn on your music – Sister Alma Rose uses headphones – and tune y’all’s body to its vibrations. (See “Make a Habit of It.”)
  • Imagine y’all’s body as a big symphony hall, or, better yet, an outdoor amphitheater, that “contains” the music. Ideally, y’all will have a sense of your body expanding and growing lighter as the music fills it and merges with the “vibration frequencies” of the universe.
  • …Or simply inhale the harmony and beauty, and exhale discord….
Y’all might find that y’all have a tendency to breathe in rhythm with the music. If the music is very fast, y’all could just about hyperventilate, and if it’s too slow, y’all might turn blue. So choose music that isn’t veryveryfast or v-e-r-y s-l-o-w, and breathe naturally.

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